In recent years, social media use has been a fertile ground for breeding legal action. Cases ranging from harassment of classmates, to identity theft, to online solicitation have raised the question of just how much should legal regulation play a role in online activity. Furthermore, how much regulation is acceptable without infringing upon another’s privacy rights?
A new bill in Texas could push the envelope even further on this issue by making Texas the first state to allow the legal system to use social media sites as a means for service of legal process. That’s right, “you’ve been served” on your facebook page could actually mean, “you’ve been served.”
House Bill 1989 by Representative Jeff Leach proposes to allow service of process via social media websites such as facebook or twitter. The language of the bill reads as follows:
Sec.A17.031. SUBSTITUTED SERVICE THROUGH SOCIAL MEDIA WEBSITE. (a) If substituted service of citation is authorized under the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, the court may prescribe as a method of service under those rules an electronic communication sent to the defendant through a social media website if the court finds that:
(1) the defendant maintains a social media page on that website;
(2) the profile on the social media page is the profile of the defendant;
(3) the defendant regularly accesses the social media page account; and
(4) the defendant could reasonably be expected to receive actual notice if the electronic communication were sent to the defendant’s account.
The very purpose of our system requiring personal service is to ensure that the individual has notice of the claims being brought against him/her so that he/she is not deprived of property or rights without due process. While the language of the bill attempts to safeguard this by placing a burden upon the person seeking service to prove that the page belongs to and is used by the defendant, the reality is that one cannot truly prove this without bringing the page owner into court–in which case, you could serve them in person.
Remember, at the phase at which this type of service would be requested, the defendant (or person to be served) has made no appearance in court nor even been notified of the lawsuit. Thus, when the person seeking service (movant) is “offering proof” that the page belongs to the correct individual and not some imposter created by, say, the movant himself, the request will be uncontested.
This type of law will open up all sorts of avenues for abuse not to mention the potential for public embarrassment. It makes you wonder if the people who propose these laws even actually use social media or understand the implications of their proposed laws.